Eli Vokoban takes Arthur and Juan playing golf at dawn. They will be gone the whole morning and Missy excitedly knocks on Granny’s door as soon as they leave. She enters, triumphantly waving Juan’s credit card.
‘How did you manage that?’
‘You don’t want to know.’ Missy winks.
‘Did you… steal it?’
‘Of course not! There are other ways… Time to hit the boutiques!’
‘But the shops aren’t even open yet…’
‘Plenty of time to have a Chai Latte at Starbucks and find the best evening gown shops in town. Chop-chop! Hurry up!’
When they get back around noon laden with shopping bags, there’s still no sign of their men, so they decide on checking the spa facilities out. The spa attendant, Naomi Nita, shows them around.
‘You can use the whirlpool in the mornings without appointment as it’s women only.’
She brings a bottle of champagne as soon as the old ladies are settled comfortably. ‘Mrs. Grey, compliments of the management.’
‘Oh, why, thank you.’ Granny is surprised but accepts graciously the flute.
‘Are you some retired celebrities or something?’ the blond woman in the Jacuzzi with them asks.
‘No, we’ve-’ Granny starts, but she’s interrupted by Missy.
‘Nope. We’re just ordinary VIP’s. Would you like a glass of bubbly?’
The three of them finish off the bottle and giggling they get back to their rooms…
After a quick lunch, they all pile into Eli’s SUV, and drive to the outskirts of town where a friend of his has a stable. The horses are ready when they arrive at the facility, they just have to wait for Eli to fill in the insurance papers.
Last time Granny sat on a horse was in Egypt*, and that was years ago… She struggles a little, she’s not very supple anymore.
Juan seems a little lost, he has never in his life ridden anything but his bike! Intimidated by the big animal, he watches how the others in the group get on their horses.
‘I can’t believe the amount of paperwork required to take a bunch of retired old geeks like ourselves on a ride…’ Eli comes walking from the office, leading a pinto. He stops and stares at Missy’s horse. ‘What’s that?’
Missy leans nonchalantly on her horse’s croup. ‘A braid of course. I did the mane too!’
‘This is a real horse, Missy. Not a Hasbro-Pinkie Pie-plaything! When did you last go for a ride? In middle school?’
‘Actually it was in primary school. Dad even bought me a Shetland pony! I used to tie ribbons in her mane…’ Missy recalls fondly.
‘I remember… We had to cut them loose!’ Granny chortles.
Eli looks at the giggling sisters and shakes his head, wondering what they’ve been up to while he was playing golf with their men…
They all mount and prepare to follow Eli.
‘I think my horse seems a little nervous.’ Arthur says. His horse appears to agree with him, bobbing its head vigorously up and down.
‘These horses are bomb proof!’ Eli exclaims. ‘You’re gripping your reins to hard. Leave them be and you’ll see he stops doing that thing with his head.’
Eli was right. Arthur’s horse calms down immediately when he releases the pressure, and tranquilly they follow the other horses out the gate.
All of them are ready, except Juan. He examines the saddle, Just have to put my foot into this steel thingamajig… Seems easy enough…
But as soon as Juan puts his foot in the stirrup, his horse neighs and starts walking after his stablemates, making Juan jump on one leg until he succeeds in liberating his foot from the stirrup.
He grabs the reins, ‘Whoa! Whoa…’
Cain’t let him decide, Eli said. Yeah. Right. Like he’ll listen to me, huh… I feel like a chicken against a lion… At least he won’t eat me, even though those teeth are huge! I’m more afraid he’ll walk on my toes…
‘Steady now… Don’t move…’ He bounces a couple of times, and jumps.
‘Yesss! This was easy-peasy! Err… What???’
‘Do you need a hand, Juan?’ The others laugh at his posture.
‘Damn horse must have turned while I was mountin…’
Juan struggles to pass his leg over the horn but the horse has got enough of being separated from his stablemates and starts off, trotting to join the other horses. Juan is holding on for his life, each pace of the horse making him slide in the saddle.
‘Oh, Juan. You’re a real Cossack! I would have fallen off immediately!’ Missy says with awe in her voice.
Her admiration makes him feel a little better about sitting on this huge animal, not being able to control it at all. He swings his leg over the massive neck and is finally sitting astride the horse. The saddle feels kind of secure, now he’s got both feet in the stirrups and can hold on to the horn.
Granny hurries to withdraw her sunglasses in the car and sits back up again.
‘Are we ready to go?’ Eli asks. ‘Everyone’s on their horses? Facing forward?’
They troop over the road in the early afternoon sun. Eli tells them about the wildlife, that maybe they’ll catch sight of bald eagles or other birds. He also tells them about the more scary habitants of the desert, like the different sorts of rattle snakes…
After a while Juan relaxes, slouching in the saddle. Feeling like a real cowboy he hums the theme of Bonanza. His wife is unusually quiet. She squirms in the saddle, the skin on the inside of her thighs is already pink and raw…
Arthur catches up with Eli and Granny who are chatting amiably.
‘Eli and I were just talking about going gambling tonight.’
Arthur swears under his breath. Eli has monopolized his Tara during the whole ride. Will he continue his charm-offensive tonight as well?
‘I’ve decided Lina needs to come out and get some fresh air. She’s spending all her time with our son at the hospital but he’ll be home in a couple of weeks and it wouldn’t hurt his momma to get her flat stomach back…’
Really, Arthur thinks. Fresh air and exercise in a casino. ‘Crap…’ Arthur mumbles to himself, a little out of breath from the fast trot.
‘You said?’ Granny turns her smiling face towards him.
‘Err… I said; I bet Eli plays crap.’
‘I do! Occasionally. But I prefer Roulette. What do you favor, Arthur? Roulette? Black Jack? Poker?’
‘I think I’ll stick with the bandits.’ Arthur says.
‘… there are several nice casino’s in Lucky Palms. Where we’re going depends on the size of you bankroll and how much you’re ready to lose!’ Eli winks conspiratorially and Granny chuckles.
‘Let’s not be pessimistic, Eli. We just want to bring an awesome souvenir back home with us!’
‘I hope you’re ready for both the risk and excitement! I know the place just right for you…’ He looks over his shoulder at Missy’s horse who has stopped and is scratching the dirt with his hoof. ‘Mind your horse, Missy! He’s aching to roll in the sand!’
‘Don’t worry, Eli! I got this!’
But as soon as she finishes the sentence her horse’s knees buckle and she has just the time to jump off before he’s rolling around on the ground. Happy with himself, he gets back on his feet, shaking of the dust.
Missy glares at Juan who is shaking with laughter. ‘Are you OK, sweetie pie?’
She doesn’t answer, just stares at her feet. Her horse nudges her hat. ‘I want to go home. My butt is aching and I’ve got blisters on the inside of my knees and I’m parched!’
Leaning forward, Juan holds out his hand. ‘I reckon you were more of a fighter, Missy! Let’s catch up with the others, and I’ll give you a nice back rub back at the hotel…’
Missy perks up, ‘I’d like to have a massage at the hotel Spa! They even have special beauty treatments!’
‘‘You might could just get back up on your horse and we’ll see…’
‘But it’s free, Juan. Mr. Lestat gave us free access to all commodities for the trouble caused by the lack of extra-bed!’
‘I ain’t objecting then. But free or not, you should get your big ass back up on that horse…’
‘My ass isn’t big!’
‘It ain’t small either. Now stop sulking and get moving.’
Pouting, she stares at her feet, not answering. Her attention is drawn to a little bug struggling in the desert sand.
‘Hey… Look at those funny traces in the sand, Juan. It looks like someone’s been sitting here before, drawing S shapes!’
‘Missy… I reckon you better get on your horse, right now. Remember what Eli said bout’em Sidewinders?’
Missy freezes, ‘OMG…’
Less than a minute later they’re trotting to catch up with the others, who are waiting on the plateau enjoying the spectacular view over Lucky Palms.
It’s needless to say that the drive back to their hotel was uneventful. Granny and Missy slept almost the whole way.
Missy and Granny walk over to the Spa as soon as they get back to the hotel.
‘And I’m supposed to just lie in the tub? Getting dirty again?’ Missy touches the soft mud.
‘You won’t exactly get dirty. The mud will purify your skin and make it as smooth as a newborn baby’s. And you’ll have a scented shower afterwards.’
Granny wrinkles her nose. ‘I’m getting a massage with hot stones, I leave the mud experience to you, Missy.’
‘Just leave your robe on the hanger and install yourself comfortably on the massage table. I’ll be with you shortly, Mrs. Grey.’
Naomi helps Missy enter the tub. ‘How does it feel?’
Naomi starts rolling some large flowerpots with bamboo plants into place next to the tub.
‘A jungle separation to enhance the soothing effect of the mud treatment,’ she explains.
‘Would you mind shutting that light off, Naomi.’
‘Of course. But you shouldn’t rub your eyes, your hands might have mud on them…’
With a pleased sigh Missy slides deeper into the warm mud. ‘Ahh… This is just what we needed after spending the whole afternoon in the saddle!’
‘Uh-hum…’ Granny almost falls asleep on the massage table.
Poor Arthur’s muscles must be as sore as mine. I’ll talk to him about sleeping on the couch. If there’s no extra bed tonight, I’ll let him sleep in the bed… Not under the covers with me, but on the bed…
The Kraken Lucky Palms Casino
The Kraken Lucky Palms is the most luxurious and also the largest casino-entertainment complex in town.
As their limo smoothly glides to a halt, Granny looks at the place in awe. Eli didn’t lie. Of course she believed him when he said the place was huge, but she wasn’t quite prepared for this. Expensive cars are queuing to let their wealthy passengers off, and the parking valets are having a busy time.
Arthur squeezes Granny’s hand and helps her out of the car.
‘Amazing, huh?’ She just nods and squeezes his hand back. ‘I thought Eli was exaggerating when he said it took thirty armored cars and two full days to haul in enough cash to stock the place when it opened thirty years ago…’
‘Uh-huh… I have difficulty imagining so much money!’ She smoothes out her brand new evening gown. ‘Arthur, do you think there will be violence tonight?’
‘You know, a holdup up or something.’
‘No… Don’t worry, Eli was talking about the other Casinos, but this one’s security is top notch. They have a gigantic amount of security staff patrolling, keeping an eye on us. I’m sure the place is stuffed with cameras to monitor our every move. We’ll practically have our own body guard…’
He doesn’t add that the mob takes care of their own – the place was built and is still owned by Don Moroni.* The only risk tonight would probably be a mob shoot out…
Eli grins, ‘Wait just a sec’. He’s stocking up on miniatures in the limo’s bar…’
Missy snorts and starts up the stairs, ‘Well, I can’t wait to try my luck at one of the one-armed Bandits…’
*TwinTowns – Falls Harbor (scroll down to n° 20)
The little group follows Eli Vokoban to the cage where a cashier changes their cash into dollies.
‘Remember, you can make fast money tonight, but also lose it all. Better set a limit you’ll not exceed to be sure.’ He gives his girlfriend Lina some dollies and affectionately pats her bum, ‘Off you go, sweetheart.’ He turns back to Granny and Missy. ‘Keep track of your purse and tickets. Some people view stealing as a “finders keepers, losers weepers” sort of scenario.’
Granny looks at Arthur, ‘You’ll stay with me?’
‘Of course. I’m not a gambler and will probably lose my house and car if I get started.’
‘Where’s the poker room?’ Juan asks.
Eli gestures with his head. ‘Come with me, it’s on the way to the roulette anyway.’
‘Well, see you around then.’ Granny and Arthur saunters off.
Eli, Juan and Missy weave their way through the slot machines towards the more select part of the casino, Eli giving Juan advice along the way.
‘Don’t accept money from anyone. Loan sharks have been caught working their scams here…’
They stop at the roulette table, ‘Here’s where I’ll spend the evening. Remember; no cells on the table if you’re playing poker, Juan.’
Juan nods, ‘Only my cards, dollies and cigarettes. And my drink.’
‘But you don’t smoke, Juan!’
‘Missy, I was just citing the standard rules.’
She gives him a kiss on the cheek. ‘For good luck. I’ll just get myself a drink and admire the surroundings. I saw there’s a show with Big Daddy I’d like to see. Is it free?’
Eli tututs, ‘Tsk-tsk… nothing is free here… Mrs. Alexander! Such a pleasure.’
He bends over a beautiful blonde woman’s hand. ‘I thought you were too busy to show up tonight, Eli…’ Betina gushes.
Security robot 4, Main Floor, Sector 3-1…
‘How did that fucker in shorts get past security at the door, Sosa? Get him out!’
‘The bar’s not my sector, Sir.’
‘Where the fuck’s fucking Winston!?!’
‘Taking a leak, Sir.’
‘That makes it yours! Get that moron out of my Casino! Do you fucking read me!?!’
‘Affirmative, Sir. Sir, what about the minor.’
‘Girl at Bandit two-four-oh-two, Sir.’
‘What about her?’
‘She was my target, Sir. Eating or bringing food onto the main floor is forbidden and underage gambling is a federal offence-’
‘The Casino Control Act, N.J.S.A. 5:12-119, prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from gambling in a Lucky Palms casino-’
‘What is this shit? Are you a fucking lawyer now!?!’
‘Err… No, Sir. But you supervise our training and insisted on us knowing the Casino Control Act by heart.’
‘Sosa…’ Bull Connor sighs. ‘As chief of the Kraken Security Team, I spend a considerable amount of time to ensure my staff members can detect suspicious players’ behavior.’
‘How long have you been with us now, Sosa?’
‘Two weeks of active surveillance service on the main floor, Sir.’
‘And in those two weeks you’ve never come across Braydon King? Or his wife, Kadia? Pillars of Lucky Palms’ society and close friends of the Moroni’s.’
‘Yes, Sir. I have, Sir. They are both present tonight, playing Black Jack as usual, Sir.’
‘Then you should fucking know that girl is Abrielle King!’ Bull Connor roars, ‘Or Abrianna? Whatever. One of their fucking twin daughters! And they can fucking do as they please in my fucking casino! Do you fucking copy that, Sosa!?! OUT!’
Security camera 4, Main Floor, Sector 2-5…
Bull Connor has earned his nickname the hard way, playing football. After retiring from the Falls Harbor Police Department, he got himself a well-paid job as Chief of security at the Kraken Lucky Palms. Little did he know he would come down with a stomach ulcer due to extreme stress, not managing without his medication within arm’s reach. He grasps for it now and takes a gulp of the white plaster like fluid and grimaces.
‘We’ve got a theft in sector three, chief!’
‘Where the fuck’s Sosa?’ Chief Bull Connor gestures to the screens. ‘I want a positive identification. Wind back and freeze to get a facial recognition! I’ve spent millions of dollars on the latest badass technology so I know it can- Wait! Zoom in on the chick by the slot machine… I’ll be damned – we’ve got a “Matlapin” topo!’
Lennon Sosa takes a deep breath and approaches the young girl by the slot machine, ‘Good evening, Miss King. Can I help you? Maybe holding your plate while-’ His earphone crackles to life again. ‘Excuse me, Miss.’
He turns away from her and concentrates on his boss bellowing in his ear.
‘Sosa! Do you read me?’
‘Yes, Sir. Winston is back, Sir. He’s handling the improperly dressed person at the bar, Sir.’
‘Forget the fucking fucker at the bar. We’ve got a Matlapin in sector three!’
‘WILCO? You fucking think you’re in the fucking army or what!?! Just get him!’
The security agents don’t know it’s Omar Matlapin himself, out of jail with a moustache and a balding head. He’s not at his first attempt at getting easy money and has created this method, starting out with cash points at supermarkets, gradually climbing towards the easy cash at the country’s many Casino’s.
Tonight he’s working with Claudia Parsons and their scheme is usually flawless. He hovers around the slot machines until a victim hits Jackpot. That’s when he grabs her bag and scurries off, generally followed by the angry woman. Claudia can then calmly pick up the money…
Finders keeps, losers weeps…
Security camera, Main Floor, Sector 5-8…
The Surveillance Operator motions Chief Connor over.
‘Dealer at table Papa-six-four-Foxtrot-two is signalling. Old guy second from the right. I’ve been rewinding the surveillance tape, but everything seems fine. He’s getting into a lot of money, though.’
‘Too much. Not enough to break the bank – yet.’
‘Sosa? We’ve got a situation at table Papa-six-four-Foxtrot-two. Round up the usual crowd and take the redneck to the backroom for a high stake game.’
‘Which one of them, Sir?’
‘The guy in checkers, he’s been winning non-stop since he sat down…’
Lennon Sousa approaches John Snow… ‘… no way can we let him leave with that kind of money…’
The first excitement, anticipation, and exhilaration Juan felt when he settled at the poker table have vanished, giving place to sheer stress. He has never played for so much money before, but to calm his nerves he just imagined the other men were his old friends Lucky Perkins, Art Johnson and Grayson Wolff. It worked. But as the stakes got higher and higher, keeping his poker face has become more difficult, and he’s afraid his trembling hands will give him away.
The cowboy checks his cards, ‘I’m all in.’
The James Bond guy to Juan’s left doesn’t even look at his cards. Rubbing his chin he makes a blind raise, ‘I bet the pot.’
Juan doesn’t know what to think. Is he bluffing?
The guy with the French accent follows.
Hesitatingly Juan pushes a pile of dollies forward.
Will my bullets be enough?
To hell with caution! ‘Err… Cap.’
He turns his cards face up. ‘American Airlines…’
‘Yay! We’re rich, honey pumpkin!’ He can hear Missy squealing behind his back, ‘Rich-Rich-Rich!’
Suddenly all lights go out, followed by an astonished silence. They come back on almost immediately, but the poker table seems to need maintenance.
‘Why don’t we continue in a more private place?’
‘Err… I think I should quit now.’
The dark man with a ponytail clamps his hand on Juan’s shoulder. ‘Me and my friends think you should join us, grandpa’…’
After a lifetime filled with bar brawls, Juan recognizes trouble when he sees it. He follows the men and the security agent to cash in his dollies and change them to more valuable ones. Missy excitingly follows, talking non-stop about all the things she will buy.
Lennon Sousa stops her at the door, ‘No audience, ma’am.’
‘But I’m his lucky charm!’
The more reason not to let you in! ‘I’m sorry, ma’am. But these are the rules.’
Missy saunters off to the bar. Ordering a Manhattan –with a parasol!- she settles in to wait for her husband…
‘All at once?’
‘Yeah. It’s a no limit game. You’re on a winning spree, grandpa. Are you afraid?’
I cain’t control when I get good cards. I cain’t control what you guys have or what you do. Yeah. I’m scared witless. ‘Err… No. But just this game, and I’m cashing out.’
‘Sure, buddy. Just this one game…’
Juan knows when he’s up against a collusion, but he can’t do anything about it…
‘Minimum buy in ten thousand, gentlemen.’
The dealer starts to shuffle the cards.
‘How’s it going?’
‘Snow and his men are doing their job, Sir.’
‘Good. Over and out.’
Granny and Arthur have spent the night at the slot machines. Arthur’s humour and good manners have attracted a little audience of elder women, but Granny doesn’t mind. She’s been too absorbed playing slots to notice anything.
‘I think I’ll call it quits.’ Arthur has spent the amount of money he had fixed. ‘Ladies…’ He bows politely and walks over to Granny. ‘How are you doing, Tara?’
‘I’m coming, just a sec’, I’ve still got one dollie left…’
She slides it into the slot and actions the bandit’s arm. The reels start spinning…
The machine begins playing a happy tune, blinking and spewing out dollies.
Granny and Arthur start to scoop up the money already on the floor. The light on top of the machine is blinking an angry red, and a gushing operator shows up. He helps Granny to her feet, kisses both her cheeks and shakes Arthur’s hand.
‘We are awfully sorry, but the machine isn’t stocked enough. Would you please follow me to the cage?’
‘Look!’ Juan stops and points his index towards the slot machines, ‘Granny just got Jackpot!’
Missy gapes in awe,‘I want to win something too. I want to do something reckless, Juan! Let’s play roulette with Eli!’
‘But…’ But Missy doesn’t listen, she grabs his arm and hauls him across the giant floor towards the roulette tables.
Juan fights her hands off him. ‘You must listen to me, Missy! Let’s cash in these chips and get out of here.’
She stares at the little heap of yellow dollies he holds folded in his shirt.
‘Here. Where’s the rest? Can I have these?’ She holds out her bag and gratefully he empties the chips into it.
‘Thanks. That’s all-‘
But Missy is already scurrying through the crowd, ‘Hurry Juan!’
Out of breath she reaches the roulette table. Unceremoniously she pushes a woman on her way to sit down next to Eli. ‘Would you mind moving over, darling. I see you’re losing anyway, so it shouldn’t be a problem to leave your seat to a lucky girl! A very rich, lucky girl.’
She empties her yellow dollies onto the velvet clad table. ‘Everything on Red 12!’
The croupier calls out, ‘Straight-up on red twelve.’
He spins first the wheel and then he expertly spins the little white ball in the opposite direction. Juan screeches to a halt almost knocking her chair over.
But he’s interrupted by the croupier’s melodic voice, ‘No more bets.’
The wheel spins and the little white ball jumps happily along, until it finally falls onto one of the 38 colored and numbered pockets on the wheel…
Oh no! Not tonight! Arthur is flabbergasted to see his things have been moved out of his and Granny’s room. Without a word, he returns to the reception.
Miss Kravitz looks at him blankly. ‘Sir?’
Arthur takes a deep breath. ‘I’m Arthur Moon. I thought I-’
‘Oh, yes. The extra bed person. It’s settled.’
Arthur starts over again, ‘I thought I made it clear I didn’t want a new room!?!’
The receptionist looks wearily at him. ‘I know you said so to Mr. Lestat, but then I thought maybe you wanted to be polite about it, so I went ahead and-’
Arthur restrains himself from jumping over the counter and slowly strangle the stupid receptionist. ‘I just want my suitcase back in my former room! Even if I have to pick it up myself and carry it there!’
‘Ahem.’ Juan comes hurrying, clad only in his pajamas. ‘The clicker is out of power.’
‘So?’ Miss Kravitz shrugs her shoulders.
‘Well. You might could change the batteries?’
Arthur won’t let a remote-control discussion get started, or he’ll never get his suitcase. ‘Could you just hand me the code so I can pick up my things!’
‘Err…’ The receptionist looks from Juan to Arthur.
‘Ahem… What about my batteries?’
‘We don’t carry batteries.’
‘Just switch the remote with the one in the empty room.’ Arthur suggests.
‘It isn’t empty. It’s yours.’ Miss Kravitz points out.
‘But I don’t want it!’
‘What then if someone checks in tonight? Their bed won’t vibrate.’
‘So you mean Missy and me cain’t use our bed?’
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have a solution, Sir.’
Arthur clenches his teeth and counts to three, ‘I’ll keep the room, thank you.’
‘See? I knew I was right about moving your things, Sir.’
He glares at her wordlessly while she prints out the code to the room.
‘Just come with me, Juan.’ I’ll give him the dang batteries!
Arthur takes the slip of paper with the code and they start out the door.
‘Poor woman is as dumb as a box of rocks, bless her soul.’
For once Arthur agrees wholeheartedly with Juan.
‘Excuse me, Sir?’ the receptionist calls out cheerily after them.
What now? Disabused Arthur looks at the dumb receptionist.
‘Not, you. Sir. Mr. Darer! I totally forgot to tell you that your suitcase arrived-’ she gesticulates for Juan to pick it up behind the counter, ‘-yesterday!’
Arthur stops and shuts his eyes, breathing in, breathing out…
And while Arthur finally quietly lies down next to Granny and with a smile on his lips peacefully falls asleep, something entirely different is going down back in Crooked Bayou Swamp…
Part II – End of Chapter 34
Special thanks to CravenLestat for his amazing MotelLove
and the blueish pattern on Betina Alexander’s top.